Top of the Bench

Fuel your students’ curiosity and represent your secondary school at our annual chemistry competition

Top of the Bench is for every secondary school in the UK. And for every 14–16 year old.

With the help of our members, we’ve been organising and running this annual competition for more than 20 years. As a result, hundreds of students have had the chance to see chemistry in a new light, and put practical and teamworking skills into action.

Heats take place from October to January. We’d love your school to join in.

A small group of students wearing lab coats and goggles smile and discuss an experiment at a laboratory bench, while other groups work in the background

Who can take part?

Top of the Bench is designed to inspire excitement about chemistry in your students – whoever they are, wherever their skills currently lie.

The competition is open to every secondary school in the UK. The only criteria: students must be aged 14–16 to take part, and your team of four should reflect your school’s gender balance.

Country Team composition 
England and Wales 
  • Two students from Year 9
  • One student from Year 10
  • One student from Year 11
  • One student from S2
  • Two students from S3
  • One student from S4
Northern Ireland
  • Two students from Year 10
  • One student from Year 11
  • One student from Year 12

How does the competition work?

Regional heats

Run from October to January, our regional heats are organised and funded by Royal Society of Chemistry local sections .

The heats are set up to have broad appeal and are fully accessible. Past challenges have included practical tasks, written theory tests, and team missions to prove safety, problem solving and general chemistry knowledge.

Students also get to meet some of our members at the heats, and talk to them about careers in chemistry. The aim of this is to show that pursuing a love of science is possible, whoever you are.

The winning team from each heat will progress to a national final.

The final

The national final is held in the spring each year and takes place at a UK university.

Activities on the day include:

  • An individual test of factual chemical knowledge
  • A team practical exercise
  • An interactive lecture
  • A prize giving ceremony

The day includes a session for teachers, in which you’ll explore resources and ideas for the classroom with one of our education coordinators.

First prize is awarded to the best overall school performance, with five further teams receiving runners up prizes. The Jacqui Clee Award is given to the student who makes an outstanding individual contribution to the day.

How to enter

To apply to take part, you'll need to get in touch with the RSC local section for your area.

If you teach in the UK, enter your school's postcode below to find your local section.

Your local section for PENDING is PENDING.


What are local sections?

RSC local sections are run by volunteers, and help to coordinate events and networks in a particular area. There are 35 local sections covering different parts of the UK and Ireland.

A small group of students wearing lab coats and goggles smile and discuss an experiment at a laboratory bench, while other groups work in the background

A close-up photograph of three glass containers with different coloured liquids, standing on a black and white periodic table

Top of the Bench past papers

Use these past papers and answers to practise working through real questions from the Top of the Bench competition.

Need help?

If you have any questions about the competition or our supporting resources, send us an email.

If there are any barriers to your school being able to take part, such as travel costs, let us know, as we may be able to help.